Last week I posted a link to the 2014 Farm Bill, as passed by the House of Representatives. Yesterday, the bill was passed by the Senate. The 2014 Farm Bill makes several changes, including cuts in subsidies for farmers, cuts to federal food stamps, and major changes to funding for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). Congress created the CBWI five years under the previous Farm Bill to fund conservation initiatives for farmers and landowners in the Chesapeake watershed. Funding allows landowners to work with the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to set up stream buffers, restore wetlands, and implement other conservation practices. These measures reduce nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff to the Bay, which is the number one problem facing the Chesapeake.
The bill passed yesterday will create a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, of which the CBWI will be a part. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program lumps together four conservation programs, including the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regional programs with the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. The Chesapeake Bay Program released a document breaking down the funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which can be found here: (Chesapeake Bay Program).
Essentially, the new partnership program will force projects within the program to compete with one another for funding. As the Chesapeake Bay Program states, funding is awarded based on a “competitive, merit-based process.” But what criteria are used to merit funding and what happens to the programs that do not receive federal grants?
A press release from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine paints the new Farm Bill as a positive change for Virginia farmers and conservation of the Chesapeake. He claims the bill “ensures robust support for Chesapeake Bay restoration…” (Kaine Press Release).
A story from the Allegheny Front, a radio program from Pittsburgh, PA, gives a different side. Their January 31 story reports that the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will cut billions of dollars to conservation projects, and reduce the number of acres included in these projects. More specific to the Chesapeake watershed, competition could cause projects in the Bay area to lose out to other regions. A loss of money will mean fewer farmers and landowners will have the funds or the incentive to implement conservation practices on their lands, and the heath of the Bay will suffer. (Allegheny Front).